Don't forget the maintenance

September 5, 2013
By: Dan Davis

An author recently posed this question to me: “Do you think this submission is too negative?” His article was focusing on what metal fabricators do to destroy their machine tools—and he couldn’t have been more correct with his approach.

At least, that’s what servicepeople tell me. They get calls that something is wrong with a machine, and when the investigation takes place—by phone if they are lucky—the problem tracks back to a maintenance issue.

For example, say a metal fabricator is getting some unruly edges on its punched parts—much more than the typical microjoint remnant that has to be ground off. What’s the deal? Someone shows up to check out the situation and finds that the punch tooling hasn’t been sharpened in more than 250,000 hits. Even though clues were evident to the operator, he was more interested in getting parts out. Uptime was of the utmost concern, but now downtime is bringing everyone down.

Sometimes scheduling downtime for maintenance can be very challenging for a metal fabricator. The long-held theory is that if the machine is making parts, it’s making money. But machines rarely are designed to run 100 percent of the time over their lifetime of the machine. In fact, that may be a recipe for shortening the lifespan of a machine.

In these current economic times, fabricators, like other manufacturers, really aren’t interested in adding labor just to satisfy a short-term need. They are thinking long-term. They want to add an employee who can grow with the company and contribute to continuous improvement efforts, not just punch a button and collect a paycheck.

That’s the same attitude these shops need to take with their equipment. They need to maximize their machine tool investment, and adhering to a proper maintenance schedule is the way to do it.

The capacity utilization rate (CUR) for manufacturing companies is 76.4 percent, which is where it has been hovering for much of the last five months. It doesn’t match the go-go days of the mid-1990s, but it is approaching the levels before the Great Recession. Considering the closure of many manufacturing companies and the consolidation of others since that time, a CUR approaching 80 percent means a busy manufacturing base.

If these companies are looking to grow conservatively, they’ll need to ensure their maintenance decisions are as well thought out as their hiring decisions.

Dan Davis

Dan Davis

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-227-8281